Leave No Trace

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Leave No Trace Bone, or High Water Down to the Bone Wendy and Lucy, Win­ter’s Hell Into the Wild

im­me­di­ately drops you into a place that feels fa­mil­iar, yet also slightly strange. Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daugh­ter Tom (Thomasin McKen­zie) are camp­ing in the woods amidst dense trees and scrag­gly un­der­brush. It quickly be­comes ap­par­ent that the two are sur­vival­ists of some kind, not recre­ational campers, and they are liv­ing in a pub­lic park near Port­land, Ore­gon. It also be­comes clear that all of this is by choice; Will nav­i­gates his world with a sin­gle-minded in­dus­tri­ous­ness that sug­gests that if he wanted to, he could find steady work and an apart­ment. But he can’t, or won’t, con­form to a “nor­mal” life­style.

The au­di­ence is given enough time to un­der­stand the pair’s rou­tine of cul­ti­vat­ing plants, bar­ter­ing with the lo­cal home­less pop­u­la­tion, and other­wise care­fully avoid­ing de­tec­tion, that we ad­just to their non­tra­di­tional way of liv­ing; we be­gin to see the “real world” as they see it. When they are later forced to move, and the lush greens of the for­est are re­placed by the right an­gles and oat­meal-col­ored wall­pa­per and car­pet­ing of a small, drab house, we feel as out of place as they do. Through films such as 2004’s and 2010’s

di­rec­tor De­bra Granik has stud­ied Amer­i­can poverty of vary­ing de­grees, show­ing the strug­gles of the poor through the eyes of women who must bear the emo­tional la­bor of han­dling men who are bro­ken — of­ten through forces be­yond their con­trol. In Leave No Trace, a film she co-wrote with Anne Rosellini (based on Peter Rock’s novel My Aban­don­ment),

Will is a vet­eran who suf­fers severely from PTSD. He un­der­stand in­tu­itively how to pro­tect and pro­vide for his daugh­ter, yet he can’t give her the com­fort­able rou­tine and so­cial in­ter­ac­tions she craves. Though he en­sures her sur­vival, she is the one who cares for him. This life is not her choice, but she loy­ally and lov­ingly goes along with him.

While Granik deeply in­volves view­ers in the father-daugh­ter jour­ney, the per­for­mances el­e­vate their re­la­tion­ship. McKen­zie, an ac­tress from New Zealand with rel­a­tively few cred­its, eas­ily slips be­tween a hard­ened va­grant and a yearn­ing teenager. Foster, no­table as a bank rob­ber in

(2016), con­veys great emo­tion through small ges­tures and a down­cast gaze that seems per­pet­u­ally aimed at the mid­dle dis­tance. Their act­ing pre­vents the film from feel­ing bleak; at its heart is a touch­ing father-daugh­ter tale that may be un­con­ven­tional but is no less warm for it.

The over­all feel of the movie calls to mind Sean Penn’s and Kelly Re­ichardt’s in that the char­ac­ters flit about the fringes of so­ci­ety with a dis­con­cert­ing rest­less­ness — al­most as if they are ghosts haunt­ing cities, towns, and the frame­work of or­di­nary daily lives. Of­ten with movies such as th­ese, au­di­ences are shown, or made to as­sume, that the char­ac­ters don’t find happy end­ings. Granik sub­verts those ex­pec­ta­tions, of­fer­ing a bit­ter­sweet res­o­lu­tion with im­pli­ca­tions that linger long af­ter the screen goes dark. — Robert Ker

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